Congressional Democrats are moving forward with a $1.9trn Covid relief proposal from Joe Biden after receiving the president’s blessing to bypass a skeptical Republican minority.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated a so-called “budget reconciliation” process earlier this week that would allow Senate Democrats, who control a 50-50 Senate by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaker vote, to pass the administration’s massive Covid aid package on a simple majority basis instead of the Senate’s traditional 60-vote threshold.
“We’re moving forward under the reconciliation. That is what President Biden wants us to do, and that is what we’re doing,” Mr Schumer told reporters on Tuesday, after wrapping up a lunchtime meeting with his caucus. Mr Biden and his Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, also attended the virtual meeting.
Mr Schumer confirmed to Capitol Hill press multiple times at his news conference that Mr Biden had given him explicit consent to move forward with the partisan legislative process, which will use what is known as a “joint budget resolution” as a vehicle to pass the Covid relief bill.
“Joe Biden is totally on board with using reconciliation. I’ve been talking to him every day. Our staffs have been talking multiple times a day. And I believe that we will pass the resolution this afternoon,” Mr Schumer said.
When both the House and Senate pass the joint budget resolution on Tuesday, that will trigger a round of “reconciliation” negotiations between the sibling committees from each chamber. The committees will meet to carve out a final “reconciliation bill” within the spending parameters laid out in Tuesday’s initial budget resolution.
A group of 10 Republican senators, led by Maine’s Susan Collins, met with Mr Biden for two hours on Monday evening to urge him to negotiate with them on a bipartisan compromise bill.
But Democrats in Washington across the board believe the GOP’s counter-proposal, with a top-line price tag of $618bn, less than a third of Mr Biden’s package, is woefully inadequate.
Mr Biden, Ms Yellen, and Senate Democrats all agreed on Tuesday that “if we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the Covid crisis for years,” Mr Schumer said.
“We share President Biden’s desire to advance this legislation in a bipartisan way. But the work must move forward. We are not going to dilute, dither, or delay.”
The White House on Tuesday confirmed that Mr Biden told Republicans at the Oval Office on Monday their plan was “way too small.”
While there has already been substantial hand-wringing from Republicans about the partisan legislative process Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi are pursuing to pass another monumental outlay of government spending, the GOP used the same process in 2017 for their massive tax code overhaul that was estimated to add between $1trn and $2trn to the federal deficit over a 10-year period.
“After weeks of calling for unity and bipartisanship, the Biden Administration has decided to ignore Congressional Republicans, and the millions of Americans they represent, to ram through a partisan COVID-relief bill that will cost nearly $2 trillion,” the office of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said in a press release on Tuesday.
“Again, despite calls for bipartisanship, there is no indication President Biden will change so much as a cent of his plan to accommodate Republican concerns,” the press release stated.
Earlier in the week, Mr Schumer said he would “welcome Republican input” on the final reconciliation bill.
“There is nothing in this process that will preclude it from being bipartisan,” the majority leader said.
Chris Riotta contributed to this report.